What I'm Reading Today: Numbers 1 & 2
Each faith community I've been part of has its own unique practices. Some of these practices are easily understood; others are not. The challenge for those folks who arrive in these faith communities (both laypeople and clergy) is to decide which of the practices are worth trying to understand and which practices are not.
Let me give you an example of one situation I ran into years ago in one of the faith communities I was a part of. In this particular church there was a tradition of taking two separate counts of folks who were at church on a given Sunday. One count was for the adults, and one count was for the children.
When I first learned of this practice, I thought it was EXTREMELY odd. They didn't separate the money the children put into the offering plates when they counted the offering, I wondered, so why would they separate out the children from the adults in their attendance count?
I sat with my question for several months and tried coming up with my own answer to the question. "Maybe they do that in order to help them complete the end of the year denominational reports that ask for demographic information regarding the composition of the faith community," I thought to myself. "Or perhaps they are trying to build a case for increasing next year's youth budget by tracking the number of youth," I reasoned. When I finally got around to asking the sensitive question, the answer I was given was that it had simply always been done that way. They weren't about to change it.
The whole time I was part of the community that practice made me VERY sad.
Because it sent a message that the youth of the community were not as important as the adults. It played into the notion that if you want to know how many people were REALLY there, you shouldn't include the children – or, at the very least, you should put a hyphen next to the grand total and warn folks that the number included children. Yikes!
I was reminded of this experience when I read today's opening chapters from the Book of Numbers. That's because much of the opening words had to do with tallying the number of Israelites in various tribes/communities. What struck me was how limited the scope of their counting process was. "The sum total of the People of Israel," the passage specified, "twenty years old and over who were able to fight in the army, county by ancestral family, was 603,550. The Levites, however, were not counted by their ancestral family along with the others."
If someone was asked how many Israelites there were, they would have been told 603,550. That count would have sent the message that women, children, the differently abled who were not able to fight, and Levites – among others – were not counted/included. How sad.
Sadly there are lots of ways in which individuals are still not counted today. When most communities count the number of married couples, for instance, they don't include same-gendered couples. And when many communities list their population, they typically overlook many of the homeless individuals in their count of the population. The list of those who don't "count" could go on for quite a while.
Today, I would encourage you to open your eyes to the way you move through the world. Pay close attention to those that you count/see (i.e. those who matter) and those that you don't.
Til next time …